Urban myth: Children laugh 300 to 400 times a day, and adults only 17.5
For the children:
If it was true then children awake 12 hours per day would be laughing at least once every 1-2 minutes from sunrise till sunset.
For the adults: Studies are limited and inconsistent. One research does suggest that adults laugh an average of 17.5 times per day (Martin RA, Kuiper NA. Daily occurrence of laughter: Relationships with age, gender, and Type A personality. Humor: International Journal Of Humor Research 1999; 12 (4): 355-84.)
Both adults and children laugh primarily during social interactions with others. Consequently, the frequency of laughter at any age depends on how much time an individual spends interacting with others.
How rumors spread: true origins of a false scientific quote
It appears to have all started with Dr Michael Titze, a German Psychotherapist and pioneer in the world of therapeutic humor. Here is what Dr Titze himself had to say about this misquote:
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In 1998 on the occasion of an international congresses dealing with therapeutic humor in which participated, among others, William Fry and Patch Adams, someone said that children laugh 400 times a day and adults only 17 times.
Because I was moderating this panel, journalists implied that I was the origin of this statistical statement (not at all true).
This was not the first time I was the origin of an incorrect “scientific fact.”
In 1983 Josef Scheppach wrote a fine article dealing with the phenomenon of laughter in which he included the following made up statement that only served to illustrate his topic: “It’s really not ridiculous: we Germans lose our humor! We laugh only 6 minutes a day. 40 years ago it was what, 18 minutes? And that was in a time which was in every respect less funny!” That article was published in P.M. a (popular) scientific magazine of the time.
2 years later, I mentioned this statement of Scheppach in a short sentence in a book dealing with humor in psychotherapy. In the following years a countless number of journalists cited my quotation of Scheppach’s statement as if it was a scientifically validated research. Eventually, even the London Times published it!
Do Children Laugh Much More Often than Adults Do?